Teaching Resources

Tips for Teaching with Zoom Tools

Resource Overview

This resource provides information about strategies for using Zoom's built-in tools in your teaching.

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Zoom Tools in Teaching

Zoom has a number of built-in tools that can be used in service of different pedagogical goals. As is the case with any educational technology tool: it is only useful to the point that it helps you achieve your teaching goals. Below you’ll find some suggestions for using the tools built into Zoom in your teaching.

Zoom Chat

Zoom chat allows you and your students to add text comments to the discussion. In addition, in the chat you can post attachments and links to web resources. Some suggestions for using Chat in your class include:

  • Ask students to post in the chat first and then discuss verbally. You can have them post as they come up with answers, or ask everyone to wait and press “enter” on their comments at once so that all have an equitable opportunity to think and be heard. Consider calling on students who have provided comments in the chat. This can help shy or quieter students break into the verbal discussion.
  • Ask students to go hunting across the web for videos/links/photos that are related to your conversation and ask them to bring them back to drop into the chat as resources for their peers.
  • Assign designated students or an Assistant in Instruction to moderate the chat and make sure that important questions and comments are addressed.
  • Use the individual chat (chat to a specific person rather than the whole class) to troubleshoot technical problems. For example, if a student is having trouble connecting via audio or video. This may, again, be an opportunity to assign a student or Assistant in Instruction to a special role, especially if you have students eager to help on the technical aspect of things.

Note that when you record your Zoom class, the chat box is also recorded, including private chats that you have with individuals students (but not private chats among the students).

Zoom Screen Share

The screen sharing function in Zoom allows users to share their screen with others in the meeting. Users can share their desktop or a particular window that they have open in their desktop. Participants can also share an external device’s screen via Zoom (e.g. a tablet screen, which can be useful for handwritten demonstrations). Some suggestions for using Screen Share in your teaching include:

  • Share an image that you want students to examine closely during the meeting.
  • Share music or audio that you want students to engage with during class. Don’t forget to give students specific instructions on what to be thinking about or listening for during the audio clip.
  • Share a PPT or Google Slide show. If you plan to do this, it may be useful to have a secondary device through which to run the slideshow so that your main screen can still be filled with your student participants pictures.
  • Note that in “side-by-side participant mode” your students will be able to control how much of their screen is taken up by the screen share and how much is taken up by their classmates’ video feeds.

Zoom Annotation & Whiteboard

Zoom offers virtual whiteboard and annotation tools for use during synchronous sessions. The annotation tools allow students to write, stamp, type, and draw on top of a screen share (e.g. PPT, webpage, image file, pdf, etc.) or the whiteboard. Some suggestions for ways to use the annotation feature and/or whiteboard in your teaching include:

  • Brainstorm and record the class’s ideas. Ask a single student to do the typing or ask all students to share one or more ideas. Note that the host of the whiteboard or screen share is the only one that can move annotations around on the screen once they’ve been posted.
  • Use the whiteboard + stamp for anonymous polling. For example, you might copy and paste a bullet pointed list into a whiteboard, ask students to place a stamp or mark next to what they’d like to discuss first.
  • Draw a diagram for students with a stylus and tablet + the whiteboard function.
  • Draw on an image to highlight particular parts. This could be a JPEG or an image embedded into a PPT or a webpage.
  • Set up a phone or a tablet as a portable doc-cam.

Limitations of Zoom Whiteboard and Annotation:

  • Annotation doesn’t move with a multi-page document/webpage etc. When you annotate, the screen is “locked” in place (no scrolling).
  • Whiteboard activities are not currently accessible to those with screen readers. Be prepared to read aloud all contributions from students or describe the activity if you have students who use screen reading devices.
  • Whiteboard draw tool works best/most precisely with touch screen + stylus.
  • Whiteboard functionality is a little more limited on a tablet or a phone. There is no “stamp” option on the tablet, but you can draw, add text, highlight, or spotlight.
  • You can leave a whiteboard (screen share) and come back to it, even if screen sharing other images/pages in between). However, if you go to breakout rooms, you will lose what is on the whiteboard. You can choose “save” and then bring the whiteboard back up as a PDF later, if need be.

Zoom Breakout Rooms

Zoom offers the option to split up participants into smaller groups in Breakout Rooms. The host can create up to 50 breakout rooms with any number of participants within them. Breakout rooms can be arranged: manually, by student choice, or at random. Using breakout rooms can increase student engagement and sense of belonging in class, as often small groups reduce anxiety over participation in a large conversation. Breakout rooms can allow students to get feedback from their peers and work collaboratively to solve problems or discuss course topics.  Some suggestions for using breakout rooms in your teaching include:

  • Think-Pair-Share: as students to consider a question on their own, go into breakout rooms to discuss with a partner or two, and then report out to the large group upon return to the main session.
  • Problem solving: Allow students to work together to solve a problem or respond to a scenario. When students return to the main session they could share out ideas or ask questions that came up in the small group setting.
  • Gallery Walk: Have each small group work on answering a question and put their answer(s) into a Google Slide that’s part of a shared Google Slide Presentation. Have the groups “walk around the gallery” by reviewing other groups’ slides. Students can annotate, ask further questions, or make notes on the new slides.
  • Jigsaw: Have each group start out by considering a reading, image, or video about a topic. Then, once they’ve become “experts” reform the groups so that one student from each original breakout room is now in a room together. In the new groups, students take turns sharing information that they gathered in their initial breakout room with their new group members.

Best Practices for Facilitating Zoom Breakout Rooms

  • Help students understand why you are utilizing breakout rooms and the benefits they will receive for engaging in the activities.
  • Provide clear, specific directions for what you want students to do in the breakout room. Ask for a specific deliverable (something that they have to produce as a result of their discussion together) so that they stay on track. Make sure directions are in writing so that students can take them with them to the breakout room.
  • Aim for rooms that are large enough for discussion/for responding to the problem, but not so large that the task can be done without some of the students. Often if you are doing small group work, it’s good to aim for groups of 3-5.
  • IF you provide a file or link, make sure students have clicked on it before heading to the Breakout room. The chat will not move with the students.
  • Circulate between breakout rooms to keep groups on track and monitor progress. Let students know you’ll do this ahead of time and try to be as unobtrusive as possible so that your appearance doesn’t shut down discussion. Consider moving about with your mic on mute intentionally.
  • Use the broadcast tool to signal when students should start to wrap up and give them a 2 minute warning before pulling them back to the main session.
  • Remind students about the “Ask for Help” button that will flag you down if they need help while they are working.

Limitations of Zoom Breakout Rooms

  • There isn’t a way to see what is happening in all breakout rooms at once. You’ll need to duck into rooms to check on students, which take a little extra time online than it does if you are moving around a physical classroom.
  • It is possible to pre-assign breakout rooms, but this function only works if participants log in with the expected email address and WashU account information. Also note that students must be in the meeting at the time that you set up the breakout rooms for them to be populated into the correct pre-assigned breakout room.

Zoom Polling

Zoom has a built in polling tool. Polling can have a number of pedagogical purposes: surveying students, resetting their lagging attention, breaking down barriers to participation, and providing the instructor with feedback about how much students understand. There are lots of different kinds of polling questions that be used for different purposes in the classroom. Further, there are lots of different ways to use polling in your class session. Step-by-step instructions for setting up a Zoom poll can be found here.

Limitations of Zoom Polling

WashU does have an institutional license with PollEverywhere, which is a different polling tool. Both options have their strengths. Zoom polling offers fewer features than PollEverywhere, but it is integrated into Zoom. Some limitations of Zoom polling include:

  • The interface is somewhat awkward for creating and downloading polls.
  • There’s not a good way for in-person and remote students to participate together.
  • There are only multiple-choice question options and no integration for polling with images.
  • It’s not integrated with Canvas and cannot be used easily to track attendance.


Have suggestions?

If you have suggestions of resources we might add to these pages, please contact us:

ctl@wustl.edu(314) 935-6810Mon - Fri, 8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.